Friday, March 24, 2017
Finding a meaning for Alleluia
Since I am a book nerd (whose memory has been very weak, trauma+life changes = sore memory), I turned to some of my resources to find a definition for Alleluia and begin with a more literary approach. They reminded me that Alleluia is the English version of the Hebrew Hallelujah, which translates as Praise the Lord, Praise be to Yahweh, the one who is, the Great I Am. The word shows up mostly in the Psalms, and especially in 113-118, which the Jewish tradition refers to as the Hallel. The Great Hallel is psalm 136. Scanning through these psalms you see phrases of favorite hymns and contemporary Christian songs. These are literally hymns of praise. "What a better starting point?" I thought.
So, I began with the first one, Psalm 113.
1 Praise the Lord! Yes, give praise, O servants of the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord!
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever.
3 Everywhere—from east to west—praise the name of the Lord.
4 For the Lord is high above the nations;
his glory is higher than the heavens.
5 Who can be compared with the Lord our God,
who is enthroned on high?
6 He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth.
7 He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.
8 He sets them among princes, even the princes of his own people!
9 He gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother.
Praise the Lord!
Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t believe it. Did this Psalm that I read as a background study for my art exploration of grief just speak directly to me by name? These were psalms written by men weren’t they? Could this have been written by a woman like me? Could this have been written by her husband? her child? her parent? Part of me searched for some message from the Holy Spirit, as if the phrase, “he gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother,” somehow meant I would be with child any day now. Part of me wanted to point to this coincidence and see it as a promise that I wouldn’t be childless forever. And yet part of me recognized that this woman still receives both names, and I already have had both of them too…and my whole goal with this is to find some happiness, some joy left within me.
At times I feel like the medical term “failed pregnancy” overlaps in my brain to name me a “failed mother.” You or I can try to console my heart by saying this isn’t true, and yet as sure as the term is written on my physical history, it is also written on my spiritual record. Ironically, I wonder if all mothers don’t feel this way from time to time when they see the hopes they had for their children fall apart. How many of us feel like failures every day at other things which we care so deeply about and seem to have trouble seeing results. Does joy come from success only? Do we have to find success to find joy?
Where does the "happy mother’s" joy come from? Does it come from her children? Does it come from a joy in her daily tasks? Does it come from the balance of family and career? How does a childless mother find happiness when there is nothing to balance?
My favorite part of painting is in the mixing and discovering of pigments. When I can’t seem to decide what to paint, I start with the colors and then go from there. My logical brain says this is backwards, but my explorer brain enjoys the process. When I’m finished, I always feel refreshed and rested, and today I had some thoughts on why that might be. When I look at the colors in wonder, I am amazed by their beauty. The best way to describe this sense of awe is to say that I take joy in seeing the colors form on the page. I take even greater joy seeing them change and develop into something with character and meaning.
Could this be where joy comes from? the moments of pause when we wonder and appreciate beauty? Is that why a mother gazing at her child looks so happy? It’s not pride or success, but true awe and enjoyment in beauty.
This is a definition of Alleluia I can do. I can look for beauty and hold on to the promise that there is still goodness and beauty present with us here and awaiting us in the moments, days and years to come.